Toto Wolff says Mercedes let victory slip away by not responding to the Virtual Safety Car period triggered by Valtteri Bottas’s breakdown as the German manufacturer suffered one its worst races in its history.

Having secured a front-row lockout in qualifying, Mercedes looked certain for another dominant display at the Red Bull Ring running 1-2 in the opening laps while having claimed victory for the past four consecutive years in Austria - only to see its race unravel in spectacular style.

Firstly, Bottas suffered a hydraulics failure which forced him to retire from the race and his on-track stop caused a Virtual Safety Car period. Lewis Hamilton had been comfortably leading but was not ordered to pit which enabled both Red Bull drivers and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to jump ahead pitting under the VSC with Hamilton pitting later on.

With Hamilton frustrated at dropping from first to fourth through strategy error, a similar mistake he suffered from at the 2018 season opener in Australia, his wretched race was ended early by a fuel pressure issue which forced him to retire.

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Wolff says pitting under the VSC was a “80%” probability but the team were distracted by concerns of Red Bull and Ferrari splitting their strategy with both their cars.

The Mercedes boss says a failure to act cost Hamilton victory with the pain compounded by the team’s first double DNF since the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.

“We made a mistake and what I think happened is that we were running one and two and controlling the race,” Wolff said. “Suddenly you see Valtteri stopping with a hydraulic leak. The VSC came out we had half a lap to react and we didn't. Fact. This is where we lost the race.

“At that stage with the VSC, pitting is probably the 80% thing you need to do. With one car out there against two others the thinking process was what would happen if the other split their cars, if we pit Lewis we could come out behind Kimi Raikkonen or behind Max Verstappen and that while that thinking loop did no distract us, we spent too much time on it.”

Wolff also conceded the team needed to manage Hamilton’s emotions at losing the lead due to a strategy call error, with Hamilton venting his frustrations over the team radio, which triggered team strategist James Vowles’ public apology for the mistake.

“For Lewis he was leading the race comfortably, and then being in P4, it was a moment where he was really suffering,” he said. “We thought it wasn’t all over, and we wanted to recover the maximum points.

“We were all in pain at the mistake. James coming on to the radio was [to help] our mindest. We are able to say we made a mistake and in order to close the matter and give Lewis the piece of mind and make him park the thought.

“It was about extracting what was left in the performance in him, helping him out of the mind loop of ‘how can this of possibly have happened?’

“By admitting the mistake it is easier to get out of the spiral.”

Hamilton has lost the Formula 1 world drivers’ championship lead by one point to Sebastian Vettel while Mercedes also lost its lead in the F1 world constructors’ championship as it trails Ferrari by 10 points.

 

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